Coping with an Unplanned Pregnancy
A five-step action plan
Discouraged with life in general and feeling somewhat sorry for myself at the time, I will never forget the words of a close friend when I told her that I’d accidentally become pregnant. Her face lit up, she beamed from ear to ear, and said: “You clever girl!”
It was one of the rare moments in life that left me speechless. I’m aware that this was not a standard response, but I have always interpreted her comment as a conscious choice on her behalf to focus on the miraculous concept of motherhood rather than the negative circumstances under which they had occurred. Regardless that a pregnancy may be unplanned, bearing a child is a unique experience and an accomplishment that one can be proud of. It by no means lessens having to deal with the negative circumstances, and no matter what anyone in your life may say or do in an attempt to help, at the end of the day coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy remains a deeply personal and individual task.
I share this experience simply because, for me, it was the defining point at which my attitude changed. My friend’s refreshing response startled me into a new way of thinking about this life-changing event, and that was the key to success.
Pregnancy can be overwhelming at the best of times, and like anything in life, preparation is crucial. Devising a personal action plan will go a long way towards having a positive pregnancy experience.
One: Evaluate Immediate Needs
While it is perfectly natural to experience stages of denial or turmoil during your pregnancy, it is vital that you take the necessary steps to care for both yourself and the child you are carrying as soon as possible. The first step on your to-do list after discovering you are pregnant is to visit a doctor. Use this new experience as an opportunity to improve your health. Habits such as alcohol, smoking, and drugs will affect your baby’s growth and should all be stopped. Any medication, prescription or not, should be cleared by your doctor before being taken.
There are a number of options when it comes to choosing a caregiver to supervise and assist you with your pregnancy and birth—including your family doctor, an obstetrician, or a midwife. The important thing is to find someone that you are comfortable with, and then to follow his or her advice as closely as possible regarding your health, both mental and physical. Remember that you are now responsible for not only your health and well being but also that of your baby. As daunting as the task may seem, a healthy pregnancy will result in a healthy baby, and healthy babies make for happier moms!
Two: Deal with Your Emotions
Allow yourself the opportunity to express any and every emotion that you may be feeling, both openly and honestly. Remember that this is not a once-off event; you need to come to terms with your pregnancy and the life-to-come with your child.
Express yourself to people that you trust and respect—a partner, family, friends, even a counselor if necessary. Consider recording your thoughts and feelings in a journal to help you define this miraculous (and despite all else, the process of bearing a child is nothing short of that) chapter in your life.
Being an expectant mom requires an entirely new perspective on life, and the more positive you are about it, the better. Remind yourself daily that it is natural to feel any number of emotions at any time, and that you are important enough to allow yourself the opportunity to work through them. No matter how much advice or concern you may get (wanted or not!), experience shows that nothing compares to a mother’s instinct, so you need to get in touch with yours as soon as you possibly can.
Try to deal with issues as they arise to gain a sense of control over this experience—it may not have been planned, but everything you do to deal with it from this point forward can be.
Three: Change Your Perspective
An unplanned pregnancy may not have been in the cards for you right now, but remember that you remain your own life manager. You now have the opportunity to make the most of not just yours, but now another’s life. Feminist author Sylvia Ann Hewlitt writes, “You can’t have ‘all’ of anything. Some aspect of your life will be compromised in at least some small way while you are focusing on another aspect of life.” By that same token, however, this is a season in your life and like all seasons, it has a beginning and an end. Keeping this in perspective will help you make the most of it rather than live with regrets in the future at not having made the most of this precious time.
Being an expectant mom will necessarily change most aspects of your lifestyle. Planning now for the long-term is essential, and changing your perspective to accommodate positive results is vital. Take the time to consider what changes you can make to be a mother while still aiming for other life goals. For example, you may be able to change your study schedule from full-time to part-time, or your employer may be open to your telecommuting once your baby is born. A parent, partner, or friend may be able to help with childcare and lend a hand when you need to rest or take a break after baby is born.
Four: Develop a Support System
“A problem shared is a problem halved,” says the old adage. As personal an experience as your pregnancy is, it is vital that you have a network of people and places to draw strength and advice from. As one new mother says, “I knew that I could come back intact from my crisis, but it depended on some help from others who believed in me.” If you have a partner, make the effort to include him in everything possible. Discuss your feelings with one another, your expectations, and your needs. If you don’t have a partner, then find one—your mom, a sister, or close friend—look for someone that you trust and feel comfortable with. Being stoic about your situation is simply the opposite extreme of wallowing in self-pity. Graciously accept any offers of assistance and rely on as many family and friends as are willing to share in this wonderful time of your life.
Your community is another place to turn for support. Local support groups, clinics and hospitals, community centers, and universities all offer programs that can help you. Many local hospitals offer support and counseling groups, and prenatal classes. Most educational institutions also offer a wealth of resources for expectant mothers—from support groups to free literature to classes. One organization in particular, www.nurturingnetwork.org, offers an extensive employment, medical, educational, counseling, and residential network geared to help with the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. (Their toll-free number is 800-TNN-4MOM.)
Five: Educate Yourself
Education is your key to empowerment. The Internet is a fantastic tool to provide you with access to a wealth of information. The danger, in fact, lies in accessing too much information and becoming overwhelmed. Take some time to first write a list of everything you are unsure of or would like to learn more about. There are sites ranging from providing simple information to in-depth online classes. Being as informed as possible will give you the confidence to enjoy your pregnancy and to look forward to the challenge of being a parent.
Pregnancy is not the end of your life; it’s the miraculous beginning of another’s. “It’s true, change forces us out of our comfort zones, stretches us in ways that might hurt for a little while,” says Roberta Rand in her book Focus on Family. “But the rewards can be astounding. In releasing the stale familiar, we clear the way for new experiences that can feed our thirsty souls and re-animate our lifeless dreams. Purged of the fears that held us back, we emerge as better people, more free and certainly more interesting.”
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